Riding the Rajdhanis
by Shashanka Nanda
After Mohan's ride in a rambling little YDM4, I guess its time to take you to the other end of the extreme. Well this one's about a rip roaring, bone crunching account of 730kms on the footplate of two Rajdhani Expresses in a single day.
Part 1 The IRFCA Hyd gang was fortunate to FP the Raj's to Balharshah and back and the highlight of the show was the SC-BPQ run on the WAP5 and that too in some style. IRFCA members PVS Pravin, Lakshman T & yours truly were met on a drizzly morning by our contact a few minutes before the dep of the Raj. It was headed by the P5 which came to SC after a long long time. While talking to him, the front gen car started up belching a cloud of smoke which would have given a complex to any Alco standing around. The entire PF under the shelter was engulfed in the smoke and we chose to stand in the rain and talk rather than end up dead even before the fun started!!
Soon the starter was given and off we were with a toot from the low tone of the P5 which had suffered considerable damage a fortnight back while delivering a stray bull to its maker while it did a measly 125kmph on the Mum Raj on which the loco was a regular over the last month or so. The cowcatcher was bent and the brackets had come loose... the body shell had a major dent just under the headlamps. Apart from that the P5 had aged gracefully showing. But nevetheless there were minor irritants like non-functional wipers which had to be manually operated. The drivers look out window glass was broken which resulted in a constant spray of water on his face.
Anyway... we got going, and effortlessely hauled the 12coach pure Raj colored rake over the points before negotiating the neutral zone at 50kmph.... we hit 75kmph powering out of Maula Ali, and then settled into a 90kmph canter for the next 30-40 kmph as dictated by the track condition. Technically the SC-KZJ section has been uprated for 120kmph MPS for the Raj and 110kmph for other SFs but in reality we could cross 100kmph only twice and hit a max of 115kmph on a very small stretch near Raghunathpalli. Otherwise a cmbination of caution orders and yellows (we were tailing the super crawling Krishna Exp) resulted in us getting delayed by 10mins. Once on the Walkie Talkie, the train controller reminded the pilot that he was not making up time, which got him furious!! How on earth could he keep time with a whole sheaf of papers on his desk which screamed 44 CAUTION ORDERS to KZJ!!
On the way, we crossed the usual morning arrivals like the Godavari, Gautami, Charminar (All 3 LGD WAP4s), Narayanadri (Baaz #12) and the Padmavati (surprise LGD WAP4). At Ippaguda the advanced starter had failed following which the asst. had to get down and take manual clearance which gave Laksh the time to jump down and take a leak ;o) The Bhagyanagari Exp from Kagaznagar to SC had a surprise tailing it... KZJ's boosted WDM2 #16501 was attached to the rear of the train, ostensibly for the evening Raj run to SBC.
PVS got off at KZJ as he had to go to office, but myself and Laksh stayed put in the cab for the fun to follow. We took the points leading out of the KZJ triangle and were put on the left line. The tracks from Hasanparti Rd. to Kazipet and Kazipet to Warangal are twin single line sections where the train can be put in any any direction on any line, so you have signals facing both ways on each line.
While on the run, we got a wonderfully detailed explanation of the working of a WAP5. The best feature of them all was the BPCS (push button for controlling speed) which as Vikas mentioned in his P7 ride puts the loco is command of the operation while the driver can sit back and relax. The loco stays a +/- 2 kmph of the speed at which BPCS is pressed and it happens automatically by applying TE or BE as needed. The ride of the P5 was the best feature abt the loco.... speeds of 110kmph plus looked as if we were going at 50kmph. The loco hardly rocked at all....and was even smoother than any goddamn passenger coach you could get into. All the theories about its light weight affecting its stability on fast speeds were simply thrown out of the broken sideglass.
By the way, a word about the man at the helm himself.... The gentleman had started his career as a fireman way back in time and since then has seen all sorts of acronyms line XA, XB, WP, WG, WDM, WAM, WAG pass under his nose. His style of driving was kinda mix of aggression and control.... he used to apply full TE to rapidly acclerate to 99% of MPS and then pushed the BPCS. We rarely touched 120 under him cos he pushed the BPCS at about 116 so the loco hovered between 114-118. Nevertheless we did manage to coax him into a short burst where we hit 121kmph at bottom of a long downhill which was immideatly corrected to 119 but the following up-grade. The asst. with him was able fellow and so was the co-ordination that most aspects were exchanged by simply raising their arms...
For me the best of the run was this: the driver, relaxing in his seat on a 40 km long caution free run was narrating stories from his younger days where he worked 92 hours straight on the footplate of a steam freight from BPQ to KZJ!! He was telling us of his days as a fireman stoking a 1300 deg C blaze while doing relaxed 115kmph with the cool draught from the cab air conditioner gently ruffling his well oiled mane! (yes, ladies and gentlemen, the WAP5s are air conditioned now) Blower units in both cabs take the heat out of the driving, so the most demanding job on IR was simply no sweat
From the outside, the Raj would have felt like passing thunder through each station. but inside it felt like we travelling AC Zero Class :) Who needs AC first class now, this was life simply at its best, and to make matters even more beautiful was the spectacular conutryside. All lush green and the rivers -- so dry and parched over the last 5 years were in full spate. The run from Kagaz Nagar to Balaharshah is one of the most scenic on IR. The train passes through a roller coaster of 1:100 grades and for most of the run, the up and down lines are at a different level from the other. From the loco cab, the long grades really look staright out of an amusement park ride, and tackling them at speeds above a ton is real fun. We crossed Manikgarh 3 mins ahead of time and the drivers started packing up. A mandatory rule on the P5 is that the drivers have to enter a record of the power units consumed and units regenerated usinf data from the onboard computer. Our run took about 500kwH of juice while we sent back a respectable 790odd back to the wires. A figure of 10-15% is considered as optimal.
Entering BPQ we saw the dead rake of Nasik- Bhusawal-Balharshah passenger behind a BSL WAM4. And by the way WAG9s now come right upto BPQ for coal rakes from the nearby coilieries, though we didn't spot one.On the NGP end, CR crew was waiting to take over the train for its next leg, while go off just in time to spot a JHS WAG7 pull in with a BOXN rake (sorry guys, no road numbers this time) from NGP side.
The driver signed off at the running room and showed us a nice lunch home and asked us to meet him at the drivers rest house later. Thus ended a wonderful and exhilerating ride, which was my longest FP to date.
After having a sumptous meal of roti, rice, dal and veggies we headed to the drivers & guards rest house situated a bit outside the station. We were introduced to the set of drivers who were to take the SBC Raj coming from HNZM to SC. Laksh chatted up with the Asst. while I ran to check my mail in a nearby cybercafe (I love the internet. I can work while railfanning) and ran back to the station to find that the Raj was waiting for us. The AP had left just before us so there was a fat chance that we would catch up soon and overtake it.
The loco was the now usual WAP4 from LGD. LGD has 2 exclsuive WAP4s for SBC Raj service; messers 22202 and 22316. Pretty soon the starter was given and we took positions behind the driver and the asst as the cramped cabin of the WAP4 doesnt allow for many luxuries. The very first point we negotiated set tone of things. This was no smooth as silk WAP5, but the brutal beast the WAP4. A resounding thud reverberated through the cab as we took the points in 3rd notch. Reaching the T/P board, the asst called the signal and the driver notched up aggresively to reach 10th while we did abt 40 kmph while entering SCR territory. On the sharp curve outside BPQ the asst poked his head and called "formation intact, sir" which was met by a cheerful "right" by the chief and we were off!! Notching uo hard, the chief cleared the Wardha river at 60 and hit the first shunt.... creaming past 80 he brougth 2 more shunts into play and we rocketed past 100 through Manikgarh,,,, and stayed at 105kmph till Wirur as it is the Max allowed for this section.
Laksh, feeling a little tired sat down on the trunk while I was on the lookout. We entered a neutral zone and the asst. opened a side panel to check the fuses, and upon turning he saw a young buffalo right next to the track on our left. He reached for the horns but the chief simply said its no use..... He hadn't even finished when there was a loud thud signalling a hit.... and the buffalo was on its way to meet the bullock mentioned in part 1.... The drivers told us that it was no use honking at bufallos cos they simply don't budge, unlike cows who jump and prance all over the place!! The conversation steered towards humans who were worse then bufallos who keep getting crushe dunder trains with alarming regularity!! By the way, CRS has issued an order that all unmanned level crossings have to taken at 120kmph only.... We've been wondering how that'd help... a hit at 120kmph into anything isn't gonna be any less painful than one at 140 after all!!
I was most impressed though by the driving style of the chief who raced up the notches taking the first shunt at 60, and the 2nd and third at around 85.. at exactly 120kmph he would notch down to zero and let the grades do their work. The assistant was straight out of the text book and was by far the most efficient assistant I had ever seen in all my footplates. I guess we could do with more of them. The guard though was a dud... He simply wouldn't signal the end of any caution order!! He repeatedly had to be woken up by the drivers to ensure that the caution zone had been passed!!
This run though was relatively caution free and we could sustain 120 for decent intervals.... but soon we caught up with AP which has to stop at all and sundry stations like Kagaznagar, Mancherial, Ramagundam etc. We were forced to ride the yellows but soon got proceed some distance before RDM and the chief simply bulleted past 100 sensing the 'kill'. We enetered RDM at 115 to see the tail of AP on the PF and through the station we went horns blaring at a full 118kmph, with people scurrying for cover from the clouds of dust we threw up...... The rush I got will stay eteched in my memory till my dying days! A horde of bikini clad Baywatch blondes can't give me the rush that I got from those few blurry seconds!!
Coast clear, we settled down at a comfortable cruise above 110 reaching Hasanparti Road and slowing down for the sharp curve to KZJ. Stopping at KZJ we picked up new caution orders and proceeded soon to SC. Some stretches towards SC still have metal sleeepers so there were a few PSRs of 50 on them. I rested for a while in the rear cab, but even there i could see a genius at work through the speedometer and notch indicators which worked back there as well. The ride of the P4 is very very hard compared to the P5. Each bump, joint and weld is felt right into your bones and even an hour on the FP can be very taxing. No wonder the drivers have to be so fit. Raj drivers are tested by RDSO for reaction times in the range of 1/1000th of a second!!
The run to SC was again a tad slow, but still we hit 120 once and 115 on many a occasion. The light was fading fast but headlamps weren't needed, but from now on our guys exchanged signals using the flasher instead of the flags. The early evening departures like the Falaknuma, Satavahana, Godavari & the WL MEMU crossed us and for once we didn't even stop at MLY reaching SC about 5 mins before. We got off triumphantly though I am sure each and every joint in our bodies was rearranged by the hammering delivered by the P4. PVS met us at the station, and we treated ourselves to a hearty Chinese meal, arguing on one of the longest standing debates on IR. Pay attention, Mr. Sarin & Mr. Swaran, here's my verdict:
P5 - James Bond, Jaguar, Driver Frendly & Power Saver P4 - Rambo, Lamborghini, Bone Crusher, Power Hungry
Both will do the job given to them in the same time, in their own manners.... but P4 is old school... P5 & P7 are the future... make way for them!!